Colorado and Washington have become the first two states in the country to legalize the recreational use of marijuana for those 21 years and older.
But the impact of the referendums, held Tuesday, will depend on how the administration of re-elected President Barack Obama decides to handle the new laws.
“Both states have made it a legal but highly controlled product,” said Kevin McGuire, a UNC political science professor.
Marijuana remains illegal at the federal level, so the federal government could challenge its use, he said.
“It’s up to the federal government to decide how active they want to be in punishing,” McGuire said. “The Obama administration must decide if they want to rigorously prosecute or whether they are going to take a more relaxed approach.”
McGuire said the stance of the Obama administration would determine the number of states that try to put in place similar legislation.
The less national interference Colorado and Washington experience, the more appealing the law will seem to other states, he said.
But North Carolina will probably not be seeing a marijuana referendum anytime soon, said UNC law professor Gene Nichol.
“I wouldn’t think there’s any chance of such legislation occurring here — no way to get it on the ballot, and it wouldn’t pass if you got it on the ballot,” Nichol said.
Nichol said that, though he believes North Carolina will remain conservative in its beliefs regarding marijuana, the referendums show views on the issue are evolving throughout the country.
McGuire said the legalization itself would generate national conversation on the topic, regardless of whether other states pursue similar legislation.
“This shows there are variations in acceptance across these states,” he said. “There is national opposition, but a lot more variation as well.”
This variation also exists throughout the UNC community.
“I do support the referendum if gone about in the right manner,” said Russell McIntyre, a vice president of UNC Young Democrats. “Their laws will provide a basis for other states.”
But UNC senior Caitlin Powers said she does not support such legislation.
“I think it’s a bit crazy it’s been legalized,” she said. “I do think it could help spur the economy, but it could negatively affect the country in other ways.”
McIntyre said the votes were some of the referendums the Young Democrats were following on election night.
And he said he thought marijuana could one day be legalized in North Carolina — in the distant future.
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